Article: Best DAW Software for Beginners

The Best DAW Software for Beginners and Beyond

The DAW might be the most important piece of gear that you own. DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It is basically the workstation where every producer and recording engineer records, and arranges their music.

There are many different choices when it comes to DAW software, and each one of them has its own little ins and outs that can help the producer get the sound that they want.

Although there are some standalone, hardware-based DAWs on the market, the most common type being used today are software-based DAWs, which are simply programs that run on the engineer’s computer.

The Edit and Mix windows of a Pro Tools session (click for full-size)

The Edit and Mix windows of a Pro Tools session (click for full-size)

Best DAWs for Beginners

If you are a beginner to recording, you may want to try an easy to use DAW to get your feet wet.

There are two popular software programs for recording that are very popular for beginners, and for good reason. These are Reaper and Garage Band, and they are both very low cost to get into and present a very low learning curve for those who are new to the craft.

Reaper

Reaper (www.reaper.fm) is a popular choice among those that are new to recording. This is because it gives users the ability to record digital audio, record MIDI, and mix their work.

It doesn’t have as many fancy bells and whistles as the other big name DAWs that have been discussed, but it is still very powerful and offers all the features that most engineers need. It does give the user a lot of power at a very small price.

A full license is just $65, although you can try it out free for 30 days. This is a fraction of the price of some of the big name DAWs out there, making it perfect if you’re just starting from scratch or building a home studio on a budget.

Garage Band

Garage Band is a great option because it gives people the ability to record and produce tracks using MIDI and digital audio on their mobile devices as well their computers. It is a great simple tool for recording pod casts, or jotting down musical ideas while on the road.

There have even been some bands that have produced entire albums using Garage Band, most notable the Gorillaz when the DAW was first released. It does have a simplified version of a grid arranger for making live loops and beats instantly.

The best part of this DAW is that it can be had completely for free through the App store. It was created and developed by Apple.


Most Popular DAWs for Home and Professional Recording Studios

There are 5 that are very common and can be found in a lot of studios all over the country. These are Ableton Live, Cubase, Pro Tools, Reason, and Logic. Each of them offers a specific set of pros and cons to its users. If you are having trouble making a decision check out some of the following information to see which one might be the best for you.

Pro Tools by Avid

Pro Tools is a Digital Audio Workstation made by Avid Technology. It is certainly one of the most, if not the most, popular DAWs used in studios across the country. Certainly, any professional producer or engineer will have at least a working knowledge of Pro Tools.

Pro Tools is probably the closest thing to a household name when it comes to DAWs. It is also one of the oldest programs on this list. See a great overview of Pro Tools in this video:

Each DAW has a different genre or type of professional that it is aimed to serve. Pro Tools is probably the best fit for those that mostly doing mixing and post-production. Of course, most producers have to mix their projects at some point. This is why so many people have Pro Tools in their recording chain.

it is so great for mixing because it is so powerful. The program can easily handle a large number of different audio and MIDI clips at the same time in a very high fidelity format for mixing. It also offers its users a bevy of different options when it comes to designing the workflow process. Those that are mixing can use the program in just about any way that they see fit.

Pro Tools is also a great option because it has all the power and ability to handle a wide array of plugins to make it useful in professional studios everywhere. It also has a simple enough learning curve that beginners can use it right away. It considered by many people to be the top DAW in the industry. Like any other workstation, it has its detractors.

Pro Tools comes in three different versions; Pro Tools First, Pro Tools 12, and Pro Tools HD 12. Pro Tools first is completely free to download. This makes it a great resource for people who want to get a feel for the software before they use it.

The intermediate version is called Pro Tools 12. This version comes included with a few different proprietary interfaces. The ideal version, Pro Tools HD 12, is the professional version. Many professional studios also use Pro Tools 12 for mixing, though. www.avid.com/pro-tools.

Ableton Live

Electronic Music and DJs are some of the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world. Some of the people reading this article are probably looking into getting to recording for this very reason. Those that are looking to get a DAW that is good for EDM should look no further than Ableton Live.

The reasons that so many DJs and live producers like Ableton Live is the fact that is was developed by the developers originally to be an instrument for a live performance by electronic artists.

It has a traditional arrangement screen and also a grid scene where the user can trigger clips and samples. This screen also gives the producer easy access to their plugins and effects in a live setting. It can fit the entire performance interface into one screen easily.

The DAW started out as a live performance vehicle. Since then it has developed into one of the best recordings, arranging, and mixing software on the market today. It is currently in its ninth version.

The software has become so popular and important as a performance tool that many different companies have developed controllers that are designed specifically for Ableton. The most popular one right now is probably the Ableton Push or the Akai APC series.

There are also a few other controllers designed specifically for the software. These controllers are part of the reason that the software has become so popular as a means of performance. Like Pro Tools, Ableton Live comes in three different versions for the beginner, intermediate, and pro user. The software can run on both PC and Apple computers. www.ableton.com/en/live.

Reason by Propellerhead

Reason could be considered the most unique DAW on this list. This is because it is not designed to resemble a typical digital workstation. It is a digital workstation that is designed by the Swedish developers at Propellerhead to resemble an analog hardware rack of different synthesizers, mixers, and effects units. This is a far cry from the way a lot of the other DAWs are organized.

One cool aspect is that by simply clicking the Tab key on your keyboard you can flip the rack around and completely rewire it. It is extremely easy to edit and rearrange the different components on your rack in Reason. This is why so many people enjoy using it.

Reason only recent added audio recording to the list of features that it offers to users. It originally only used MIDI to trigger analog modeling synthesizers. The software is currently in its ninth version. The DAW has been billed as a “suite of virtual instruments” by some. It is a great design for someone who is a skilled player and wants to have access to a ton of different sounds instantly that are easy to switch between.

Many people use Reason live and trigger synth sounds from their keyboards. It is important to note that Reason does not support any third party software. This includes plugin instruments and effects. This causes a lot of people to implement Reason as part of their recording setup and not the central focus of it.

Reason is a great piece of software for the player that wants access to a huge number of different virtual instruments. Propellerhead makes this software in two different versions. The first is Reason 9 ESSENTIALS and the second version is REASON 9 Full. The second versions obviously have many more options when it comes to instruments and effects as is implied by the name. The software runs on both PC and Apple computers. www.propellerheads.se/reason.

Logic Pro X (Mac)

Logic is one of the most popular recording software on the market today. This is of course if you have an Apple computer. It is also one of the more affordable DAWs on the market.

The software is owned and developed by Apple. This means that it is only compatible with Macintosh computers. This is of course not an ideal situation for those producers and engineers that are operating on a Windows operating system. The fact that that is only compatible with Mac OSX operating systems does mean that it can be used with any kind of hardware that is also compatible with the software.

Logic does have the ability to record and mix digital audio. It can also sequence and arrange MIDI clips as well. It is probably the second most common DAW I see used when it comes to electronic music. many electronic producers will use Logic to record and mix and then export those clips into Ableton Live when it comes time to perform them live.

Many people love logic because it comes loaded with a ton of different effects and instruments loaded included with the purchase.

Logic offers some cool feaslick automation and ability to run both audio and MIDI clips at the same time smoothly. It is also very easy to sync what is recorded on it with video. This is why it is used by many engineers that are using it for commercial audio and video projects.

Logic is one of the most versatile pieces of DAW software as it is used by engineers, video commercial directors, beat makers, and DJs. There is hardly any medium where Logic cannot fulfill the needs of the user. There is only one current version of Logic available at a time. It is only available via download through the Apple App store. www.apple.com/logic-pro.

Steinberg Cubase

If you were going to compare Cubase to one of the other DAWs that were already discussed on this thread it would probably be considered most similar to Logic. This is, of course, except for the fact that it is compatible with Windows operating systems. Like Reason, Cubase started out as a software program that could only handle MIDI before it later was developed to also implement audio recording. In 1992 , a version released that would both work on Windows computers and be able to track audio.

Cubase is one of the original digital audio workstations. This means that when people purchase it they know that they are buying from a company with a lot of experience. They also have a great customer support system. Cubase has been one of the most popular DAWs for over two decades for a reason.

Cubase is also well-known because of the many industry advances that it has provided to the industry over time. The most famous of these was the invention and implementation of VST plugins and VST instruments. The plugins came before the instruments as they came in the 1996 and 1999 versions of the software respectively. This is technology is now widely used by just about every digital audio software company in the industry.

Cubase is made by Steinberg and comes in two different versions currently. These are Cubase Elements, Cubase Artist 8.5, and Cubase Pro 8.5. There is a free tial version that potential users can investigate to decide if they are interested in the software or not. If you are a fan of trusted names and versatility, Cubase might be the DAW for you. www.steinberg.net/en/products/cubase.


These are some of the most popular DAWs on the market. It is true that many of them perform some of the same functions, so you want to choose carefully before investing hours of time learning a new system.

When deciding which DAW to use, it is important to consider what it is you are going to be using for. For example, if you want a powerful and affordable DAW that is very versatile, Logic may your answer. If you are a producer that wants to use the software to perform live you should give Ableton Live a try.

Most of these programs have some sort of trial demo version available on their website. This is a great way to get a feel for each program. You might also find out which different DAWs you want to use in conjunction with each other in order to design the perfect workflow situation for you.

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